'Massive, unexpected' turnout in Egypt vote

Cairo

Egyptians poured onto the streets for a second day of voting yesterday as the Military Council appeared intent on using the large turnout to bolster its shaky position.

Queues snaked around the streets of Egypt's towns and cities, with Abdel-Mooaez Ibrahim, the head of the country's election commission saying the turnout had been "massive and unexpected".

Protesters who remain camped out in central Cairo have demanded the generals who have governed Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February step down immediately. Many are worried that the military will be reluctant to step aside. But Field Marshal Mohamad Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's de facto leader, has seemed keen to isolate the demonstrators, suggesting in recent statements that the activists controlling Tahrir Square do not represent Egyptian opinion.

In a sign that the military's strategy might be bearing fruit, the numbers of demonstrators in downtown Cairo has dwindled noticeably in recent days. One observer joked on Twitter that there seemed to be more stallholders than protesters now.

After various political parties called for a postponement or boycott of the poll in the wake of last week's rioting, the apparent enthusiasm for Egypt's historic election could be a boon to military prestige – particularly as the vote is being safeguarded by tens of thousands of troops. The Muslim Brotherhood's political wing said the election would "complete the revolution of 25 January".

The three-round vote for Egypt's lower house of parliament, which many have criticised for its complexity, will be completed in January. A poll for the upper house is due to end in March.

Bahrain shifts security chief

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa replaced Bahrain's head of state security yesterday after an inquiry exposed rights abuses during a crackdown on Arab Spring protests in the Gulf state. Bahrain has said it will comply with the findings of the independent commission of inquiry. The former security head, Sheikh Khalifa bin Abdullah, will now advise the king. Reuters

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